Thursday, 10 September 2020

Hidden London - Derek Jarman at the Garden Museum

In lieu of a trip to Dungeness to see the real thing, check out the recreation of Jarman's beach cottage at the hidden way Garden Museum, which is tucked under the shadow of Lambeth Palace in a deconsecrated church, and easily missed. 

Paintings, small sculptures and his garden notebooks are on display along with films from the shingle garden and a series of haunting photographs, including one of him towards to end of his life showing the ravages AIDS related complications had taken on his body. Awful to see and remember the scourge AIDS was before effective drugs for HIV management. 

An interesting, but tiny exhibition in which I learned that Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd seemed to have met Jarman on a random trip to the seaside at Dungeness, culminating in Jarman sharing his plant list with Chatto. It is this encounter and list that was the genesis of her famous gravel garden. Who knew that little nugget of garden history? 

I rather liked reading in Jarman's notebook that he bought a dozen wallflowers at a boot fair for £1. So it's not just me then. More than admiring his beautiful handwriting, inked over initial pencil marks, one journal page includes a moving poem about AIDS victims with the refrain 'Cold, cold. cold they died so silently'. 


Other reason to visit the museum, which to be honest is rather dull even to me a garden nut, are the semi-tropical courtyard garden in the former graveyard packed with the kind of lush planting that might survive the average British winter, and two of its tombs. 

William Bligh, Captain of the Bounty, is memorialised for this and as the man who took breadfruit from the South Pacific to the West Indies, but not for any of his other expeditions, or acting as governor of New South Wales. Breadfruit was meant to be a food crop for the enslaved Africans on its plantations, but the small matter of a Mutiny put pay to plants being sourced in Tahiti as the Bounty did not make it there, hence a later and more successful expedition. 

A grand limestone tomb cornered by four carved trees and with scenes of exotic species and plants is that of John Tradescant, the elder who died in 1638. Plantsman and gardener, it is somewhat fitting that he ended up being part of a museum dedicated to his expert subject. 

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